Rottingdean is an ancient Anglo-Saxon settlement and there may have been an earlier church on this site, however, following the Norman conquest, William de Warrenne, to whom the village of Rottingdean and adjoining land was granted, gave funds to rebuild the church in flint and Caen sandstone.
About the year AD 1100 a tower was erected on the present Saxon chancel, where the present tower still stands, and constructed a new chancel beyond it, and two transepts of similar dimensions.
The rebuilding work of William de Warenne lasted less than a century for by about AD 1200 the tower had collapsed, bringing down with it substantial parts of the nave and chancel. The tower was immediately rebuilt - but this time in the Early English style. It's massive walls, over four feet feet thick have lasted 800 years. The tall lancet windows in the tower are characteristic of the Early English style. During these building operations the nave was lightly widened on its south side and a four bay aisle added.
On the outside of the south wall of the chancel can be seen the remains of a very narrow Priest's door of the same date as the tower, and immediately above it part of a small window, which took the place of the door about 180 years later, and was itself blocked up in the fifteen century. All that remains of the earlier Norman church is the northern nave walls; the rest is Early English with substantial renovation work undertaken in the South Aisle and Chancel by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1856.
The South Aisle dates to the restoration work of Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1856. The aisle was shifted some two feet further southward and the large fire damaged columns of Caen stone re-erected to form the north boundary of this aisle.
The first photograph below shows the arch through into the base of the tower, then through into the chancel. There are several steps up into the chancel - which is significantly higher than the nave. The second shows the view back to the organ on the western gallery taken from the chancel steps.
The church has had a turbulent history. In 1377 the building suffered much damage during a raid by a large party of French pirates. The pirates intending to attack the city of Lewes landed at Rottingdean Gap and proceeded to plunder and fire the village. Those who had not escaped inland and who had survived took refuge in the tower which was promptly set alight by the pirates. The surviving villagers were burnt alive and the fabric much damaged. The side aisle and the roof of the nave, together with the west wall were totally destroyed. Many of the flints on the inner walls of the church were fractured by the intense heat, and the stone work of the arches and windows display the characteristic pink and grey colouring associated with burning.
The seven stained glass windows in the chancel and tower are perhaps the glory of this church. They were made by William Morris & Co from the designs of Sir Edward Burner-Jones and are generally recognised to be some of their finest work. The Burne-Jones' lived across the green from, and were frequent visitors to, the church. For a lover of pre-Raphaelite art, as I am, these windows are worth a trip in themselves.
The three light east window in the chancel, was erected in 1893, to commemorate the marriage of Burne-Jones's daughter, Margaret. The window represents the three archangels, Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. Underneath are panels representing the Annunciation; Michael slaying the dragon and Raphael the guardian of little children.
These glorious windows deserve rather larger images than I normally include - so apologies for the download time, hopefully you'll agree the wait is worth it!
The two windows below are in the north wall of the nave and were made from designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and by the firm of William Morris after the death of both the artist and William Morris. The first, representing St. Martin was erected to the memory of Mr. Edward Ridsdale (the father-in-law of prime minister Stanley Baldwin) .
The two windows below are in the side walls of the chancel. The depiction of the blessed virgin Mary is in the south wall of the chancel, was given by the Rev Arthur Thomas, vicar from 1848 to 1895, in memory of his wife. The depiction of St Margaret, the patron saint of the church, in the north wall of the chancel, was given Margaret Mackail, the daughter of Burne-Jones and the face is supposed to be that of Margaret herself. .
I have pictures of all the windows in this church (unless I missed one) - however in my opinion the ones shown on this page are the best, with St Raphael in the east window the most beautiful of all.
The font is at the west end of the south aisle.
The final two pictures are from the door jambs of the main entrance door in the west wall of the tower.
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